OF MONSTERS is a series of flash fiction exploring what it means to be monstrous, and each piece, small and silver-wrapped, opens to reveal something different. In Dana Diehl’s “Child Star”, monstrousness is fame, and the feeling that your body is undependable, might any moment split like a seam. In “Jane Eyre,” Zach Doss explores the monstrousness of cutting someone to bits and reconstruction, of a love turned scientific and procedural. Monstrousness is having a fish in your heart, is a series a B movies where we’re just waiting to be attacked, is the pebbling in of a migraine, is being a different sort of person in your attic, is darkness, is senility, is the struggle to swallow. A topcoat of witchcraft. The hint of a tentacle in a pool. Monstrousness is being the person who wasn’t good enough to love. Is the dragon you can’t control. Is knowing how powerless you are.
The series is inspired by Melissa Goodrich’s debut collection Daughters of Monsters, a raw and magical book of spells, an honest yet harrowing look at the wonder and threat of the world.
The woman of the house ran late. By habit, she tried to do too much in too little time. She saved going to the bathroom for last, which meant that sometimes she peed a tiny bit in her underpants. She wished she did not always run so late.
Before bed, the woman of the house had to vacuum the floor, at least. She also had to think about teaching her Friday class. She had to consider dinner for the children who were coming home Friday night from their cousins’ house. She had to plan her former students’ wedding ceremony for Saturday, and a workshop on Monday for her colleagues at the university. Time to suck it up.
That summer, she kept their house as clean as she could. She wanted to be a woman who saw the good in things. But she feared monsters in the closet, hot lava covering the floor.
Previous owners of the house had met with misfortune—infant deaths, tuberculosis, cancer, criminal megalomania—and in weaker moments, the woman of the house wondered if the house were driving her crazy. But she stopped herself from these thoughts because they were crazy.
She picked up the fly-covered dog poop so it wouldn’t kill the grass. Then she took off her latex gloves and mowed very fast, pretending she was back in high school doing suicide sprints at field hockey practice. Was this what her old coach had had in mind? When this fantasy bored her, she imagined she was naked. They had a nice house, a nice lawn. And the dogs seemed happy.
There was dirt on the kitchen floor. A layer of dust covered the piano. Mold spotted the toilet bowl rims. In every corner, spider webs hung high, and dog hair clumped low. Seeing these things, the woman of the house started to unravel. She started to clean.
The woman of the house was not sure how other women felt about their houses. But she’d recently seen an old woman sweep a broom on the outside of her house, along the aluminum siding.
Mowing the lawn that summer, the woman of the house wondered if there was a patron saint of dog poop. If not, could she be named? Crowned, or beatified? That said, there was probably a lot of competition.
She fantasized that mowing the lawn fast was training for the apocalypse. That to survive the apocalypse, it would help to be able to walk back and forth very fast, pushing a light cart. She would survive the apocalypse, which, in her head, she kept calling the apoopalypse.
In the upstairs bathroom, orange mold grew around the drain. When the woman of the house met her friend at the bar, they ordered Orange Comfort.
It was easier for the woman of the house to feel good about herself with the laundry clean and the lawn mown.
On the outside of the house were cobwebs that caught the mown grass. The woman of the house wondered if sweeping outside was senile after all. She resolved to try it someday before she got too old.
Catherine Zobal Dent, who teaches fiction writing at Susquehanna University, is the author of Unfinished Stories of Girls (2014) and winner of the 2015 French Voices award for her co-translation of Cyrille Fleischman’s book Destiny’s Repairman.